Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Courthouse Budget Facing Diet; Peyton Determined to Slim Down Price

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Courthouse Budget Facing Diet; Peyton Determined to Slim Down Price

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Kelli Palka, Times-Union staff writer

Not only is the new Duval County Courthouse over its $211 million budget, Jacksonville officials acknowledge the estimated cost is even higher than they once thought.

The latest price tag of the largest Better Jacksonville Plan project is about $282 million. That's due in part to rising property costs and the inclusion of some nicer design features that add to the building's grandeur.

While Mayor John Peyton can't do much about the property costs, he does plan to save about $20 million by filling the almost 1 million-square-foot complex with salvaged furniture and computers from the old courthouse and by pushing the completion date back eight months to March 2007, said Heather Murphy, Peyton's press secretary.

Another $21 million could be cut from a long list of things such as removing sensor fixtures in public toilets and leaving stairways unfinished.

Even after those $41 million in cuts, Peyton still would be facing a project $30 million over its $211 million budget. Though he said he's going to try to cut more, Peyton also said he suspects the courthouse will remain over budget.

"Is it going to cost more at the end? I think yes it will," Peyton said.

Former Chief Operating Officer Sam Mousa presented Peyton with a list of six options for how to deal with the budget issues. In addition to the $41 million in cuts, the options also assumed cuts of $2 million in drainage costs, because the city is contemplating using a countywide drainage fund to help with courthouse drainage issues, and using about $2.5 million remaining in two court trust fund accounts intended to maintain the courthouse.

Those additional cuts would bring the cost down to about $236 million. Now Peyton must figure out how to continue reducing the cost.

The first option would be to make no more cuts. That would allow renovation of the old federal courthouse, which is next to the planned site for the new facility, to house the offices of the state attorney and public defender and a law library. It also makes room for future expansion.

The last option calls for going over budget by $400,000. But the complex wouldn't include room for expansion, renovating the old federal courthouse, moving the state attorney's and public defender's offices, and building a new law library.

The other options are somewhere in the middle.

Peyton said he's looking at all the options, but that he plans to build the law library and move the state attorney's and public defender's offices.

"There is an expectation, and I think an obligation, to move everyone who was told they would move," Peyton said.

When Peyton took office July 1, he was facing a project already over budget. If all courthouse plans on paper came to fruition -- including all new furniture, newly leased technology and an August 2006 completion date -- the courthouse would cost $282 million, Murphy said. …

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